Inventing a safer, healthier future

GE Healthcare treats patient safety data with SAS® Analytics

GE founder Thomas A. Edison once said: "I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others. I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent."

As it has been for more than a century, that spirit of imagination and invention is still hard at work at GE. Synonymous with the word innovation, the company is applying its collective imagination to change some of the world's toughest problems – not the least of which is access to quality health care for everyone, the world over.

I'm excited about the relationship we have with SAS® in this area. We had to have a world-class company that lives and breathes analytics like SAS®.

Mark Vachon
GE Vice President

Healthymagination: cost, quality and access

Guided by its vision to change health care delivery through an early health model, the GE Healthcare division is working in more than 100 countries to deliver solutions for early diagnosis, intervention and prevention. As the world moves toward the concept of a digital hospital, it is also leading the way in the development of technology for patient monitoring, imaging and information delivery. The company even developed a website – – to help build stronger relationships between patients and doctors through the collection, exchange and discussion of healthy ideas.

"We're at work for a healthier world," says Mark Vachon, former President and CEO of GE Healthcare's $9 billion Americas region, recently promoted to Vice President of Ecomagination, GE's sustainable business strategy. "That's the purpose every GE Healthcare employee wakes up and comes to work for – it's an incredibly important purpose and it energizes us. Our strategy is called 'healthymagination,' which really boils down to cost, quality and access. Everything we do is focused on using our significant resources to innovate along those axes, and to make a difference in every part of the world."

With its significant shoulder behind the advancement of universal solutions to help everyone gain access to quality, low-cost health care, GE is applying research, knowledge and technology to deliver a broad array of health care solutions. Solutions like Qualibria™, its real-time clinical knowledge platform for bedside patient treatment, and AgileTrac™, to help optimize hospital facility capacity and asset management, are prime examples of the imaginative and innovative work Edison himself would have been proud of.

Better patient data = better patient care

Building upon a sterling platform of health innovation, GE Healthcare's Performance Solutions1 team formed its own patient safety organization (PSO). In the US, for example, leading medical facilities work with a PSO to report near misses and adverse events, such as falls or wrong-site surgeries, to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) – a federal agency for the improvement of quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care. GE is using SAS® Business Analytics to store, analyze and deliver patient safety information back to member hospitals to help address common, preventable medical events.

"In the airline and manufacturing industries, the culture of reporting near misses is robust. You don't want to find out about an issue when it's an event, but rather when it's a near miss," explains Vachon. "The ratio of near misses to actual events in the airline industry is approximately 50-to-1. It's a culture that's developed on the expectation that if there's an issue, it gets surfaced.

"In the health care industry, the ratio is not well-documented, but it's about 300-to-1," he continues. "The reason is that the culture of medical professionals is resistant to reporting on peers, much less themselves, regarding near-miss events. Not to mention the fear of litigation. The problem is exacerbated by ineffective reporting tools. Many hospitals still rely on paper, spreadsheets or first-generation event reporting systems. Even if you could change the cultural dynamic, it would still be problematic. That's why we formed the patient safety organization, which puts a cloak of anonymity around the information so that we can, without fear of retribution among practitioners, extract near-miss data and analyze it to find root causes, share data and prevent future events."

With a history in the business process strategy Six Sigma, as well having the resources to collect and store large amounts of detailed data, GE Healthcare and SAS are well-equipped to manage the data volumes needed for effective analytics that deliver statistical significance.

"There are three fundamental pillars for successfully attacking the problem of medical error," explains Vachon. "The first is a best-in-class event reporting system; we have that in the system we call MERS: Medical Event Reporting System. It was developed at Columbia University and really does provide the best solution for capturing the level of detail required for effective analysis. The second is analytics. I'm excited about the relationship we have with SAS in this area. We had to have a world-class company that lives and breathes analytics like SAS. And the third piece is our consulting capability – to take data and turn it into real change."

According to Vachon, GE's PSO members will collect and report patient event data securely over the Internet through MERS, so it can be accessed and analyzed using SAS Analytics. Hospitals will be able to access a database of de-identified data to generate prebuilt and customized reports to compare themselves to peers, providing analysis and insight that was not possible before.

"SAS is providing two basic services for the PSO," explains Vachon. "We typically think of SAS as the analytics part, but hosting the event data in the SAS Solutions OnDemand Cloud Computing Center and profiling it are going to be real differentiators for us. Our organizations have a long history in health care; there's a certain level of trust that has already been built. I think it's incredibly important for hospitals to know they have partners they can trust."

And, Vachon points out, early PSO results have been more than encouraging.

"On average, we're seeing a tenfold increase in the number of events being captured by MERS. This is the basis for preventing future events," he says. "We had one hospital CEO tell us that she's addicted to the system. It gives her staff a chance to take action based on real data. Administrators are provided a window into the complexity that's involved with both near misses and events. And while it takes a sophisticated solution, knowing that and having the tools is a real liberator to making a difference.

"This is just one of many elements we plan to deploy against the very serious topic of patient safety and medical events," he continues. "Whether it's patient workflow, tracking, technology or asset management, it all has a connection to safety and quality – this is going to be the center of it all."

The evolution of health care

When asked for his vision of health care in the future, Vachon ponders the question for a moment and says:

"If you reflect on the origin of the hospital, it was where all care was delivered. As a result, those structures have become quite costly over time. As well, making sure that the right care was performed in the right facility became misaligned. If someone had a minor procedure performed at a hospital, it may not have been the most appropriate, cost-effective method of delivery. While the hospital will certainly continue to play a vital role in the future, it will be part of a broader health care ecosystem for delivery and care.

"We see the migration of patient care out of hospitals and into clinics and homes," he continues. "One reason is the developing tsunami of chronic care, driven by disease manifestations and the aging global population. Even if we wanted to care for all these patients in hospitals, we couldn't afford to. Delivering care where it's most appropriate will be important in terms of cost and quality in the future.

"In terms of informatics," he concludes, "it will become more critical for information to follow a patient, so that all caregivers in the ecosystem understand who the patient is and what's been done. This level of optimization will ultimately provide patients with access to cost-effective, quality health care."

1 Performance Solutions, led by President and CEO Jan de Witte, is a division of GE Healthcare, launched in July 2010 as an end-to-end knowledge solutions business, dedicated to helping health care systems globally to reduce unnecessary waste and create safer, more efficient patient care. Following the move of Mark Vachon to GE's Ecomagination team, GEHC Americas is now led by President and CEO Marcelo Mosci.


Fear of litigation and ineffective reporting tools have led to under reporting of near-miss medical events.


GE Healthcare is using SAS® Business Analytics to store, analyze and deliver patient safety information back to member hospitals to help address common, preventable medical events.


There's been a tenfold increase in the number of events being captured by the GE Medical Event Reporting System (MERS). With the new reporting system, administrators and hospital staff now have a window into both near misses and events and can take steps to prevent future events.

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